In February 2016, Prime Minister Edi Rama made a widely disseminated statement about the high unemployment levels in Albania: “There are jobs, there is need for work, but there are no professionals to meet that need.” He continued:
This is the problem: We have fostered for years on end a farce, opening the highway to enter universities with parking places for everyone and worthless diplomas for everyone. The diploma says you’re a lawyer, but also half-illiterate.
This statement was later conflated in the media to: “There is work but there are no professionals.” A similar slogan appeared in the 2016 Employment Fair, held in April of that year: “There is work but we need professionals.”
Fast forward to July 2017. Rama published a black list on his Facebook account, publicly shaming 100 civil servants that would have “insulted” ordinary citizens. Later that month, Rama fired live on Facebook all the local directors of the Asset Registries, followed by all hospital directors (except two: a media figure nominated by Rama himself, and the husband of Deputy Minister of Healthcare). Recently, the Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj fired several prison directors, while Rama announced the elimination of the Regional Education Directorates.
In all the above cases, the government opened new application procedures to fill in these management positions, but the first indications are that it will encounter considerable difficulties to find the “professionals” that are needed. Yesterday Minister Gjonaj announced that she would extend the application deadline for the 35 positions available in the Asset Registry, after many applications turned out to be weak:
More than 15 days ago, the Ministry of Justice has announced the available positions in the offices of the Asset Registry in all of Albania. As a result we have had weak candidates. 25% of them do not fulfill the formal legal requirements. We don’t manage to have good local professionals to bring allow these offices to function normally, these offices that are the gangrenes of the situation created with properties.
I call upon all professionals, all those people who want to contribute, all able professionals, to compete and to end the problem with properties.
So why are there no professionals? The origins of this wide-ranging problem are to be sought in two areas: the education system and the government style of Edi Rama.
It is indeed true that the public education system, overpriced and underfunded, is pouring out, year after year, underqualified economists and lawyers. The recent accreditation report of the University of Tirana tells us that much. Without deep reforms and structural and substantial investments in public education, this situation will not change in the next decade. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has no such plans, and private universities are unlikely environments to cultivate dedication to the state apparatus – graduates either enter the private market, or simply leave the country.
The second reason is of an equally structural nature. At the moment that all mid-level management positions in civil service are under constant, personal threat of the Prime Minister, when any civil servant “with responsibilities” can be fired at will, based on mere rumors or complaints that Rama reads on his Facebook wall, the appeal of these jobs to any “professional” is obviously much lower.
In regular bureaucracies the natural candidates for the directorships would be civil servants working themselves toward the top. There would a natural competition within directorates between lower-level managers for promotion. Internal education and capacity building by the bureaucracy would facilitate this natural professional cycle.
The fact, however, that the Minister of Justice now complains about the low level of applicants indicates that also within these directorates there is no sufficient knowledge and abilities to fill up the position of director. The problem is therefore not only that there are no professionals outside the government wanting to take the job. There are no professionals inside it either. This is the result of a thorough politicization of the bureaucracy, which continues to be reinforced by the Prime Minister himself.